Pros: Sporty attitude; peppy acceleration; decent back seat; handy hatchback body style; extensive personalization options; good value
Cons: Modest performance capabilities
The 2012 Scion tC is the kind of attainable sport coupe that no one seems to build anymore. Remember the Mitsubishi Eclipse/Eagle Talon twins? The Acura Integra? The Toyota Celica? It wasn't that long ago that coupes like these were fixtures in high school and college parking lots across the country. We thought they made for great first cars, providing accessible fun while remaining reasonably safe and versatile. These days, however, the Scion tC is practically the only game in town.
Fortunately, the tC's got a lot going for it. The 2.5-liter inline-4 under the hood isn't capable enough to get you into real trouble, but it's entertaining, and its broad power band is ideal for someone learning to drive a stick shift. The tC's sporty steering wheel is a nice complement to the car's engaging handling character. The back seat is surprisingly handy, making the tC a legitimate four-seater for moderate-length trips. And like every Scion, the tC offers plenty of personalization options for everything from loud exhausts to thumping sound systems.
The tC should not be mistaken for a real performance car-it's based on the boring U.K.-built Toyota Avensis sedan, after all-but if you keep your expectations reasonable, this Scion is likely to exceed them. The glory days of affordable sport coupes may never return, but we're glad the 2012 Scion tC is around to remind us what these cars were all about.
Comfort & Utility
The 2012 Scion tC is offered in one trim level with many optional accessories. Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, a height-adjustable driver's seat, air conditioning, power accessories, cruise control, a first-aid kit, a tilting and telescoping flat-bottom sport steering wheel and an eight-speaker, 300-watt Pioneer audio system with HD radio and iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity.
Available extras include 19-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, a rear spoiler, a premium Pioneer audio system with a 5.8-inch touchscreen and Pandora Internet radio connectivity (iPhone required), a navigation system with a 7.0-inch touchscreen (replacing the premium stereo's smaller touchscreen) and a variety of mild performance aids like lowering springs, performance brakes and a sport exhaust.
Also offered for 2012 is a limited-edition RS 7.0 model with a retina-searing yellow paint job, black 18-inch alloys, a Toyota Racing Development body kit, black and yellow upholstery, keyless entry with push-button ignition and individually numbered badges.
The tC's front seats are a welcome departure from Scion's ho-hum norm, boasting prominent side bolsters designed to hold you in place when the going gets twisty. Those bolsters could actually be more aggressive, though, as we suspect concessions have been made to the median American physique. The thick, leather-wrapped tilting and telescoping steering wheel has a wide range of adjustability, and it sports a racing-car-style flat bottom that reminds us of the wheel in the mega-expensive Audi TT RS.
The tC's gauges are straightforward, comprising an orange-illuminated tachometer and speedometer housed within separate hoods. The three-dial climate controls couldn't be simpler, and the entire central control panel is canted toward the driver for a cool cockpit-like feel. We've seen other publications complain about the tC's interior materials, but we're not sure what they're so angry about. Sure, the plastics are hard to the touch, but they have distinctive graining, and the overall ambiance in the tC's cabin is hardly cheap.
The tC's back seat illustrates the advantages of basing a sport coupe on an existing sedan. Unless the front passengers are unusually tall, full-size adults should be able to ride in back for miles without complaint. Rear headroom is the most significant limiting factor.
Cargo capacity seems average-plus at first blush-14.7 cubic feet-but that's just the start of it. The tC is actually a hatchback, believe it or not, and if you open that liftgate and fold down the rear seatbacks, you'll have nearly 35 cubic feet of cargo space, which puts the tC in a dead heat with the xD four-door hatchback.
The tC's standard Pioneer stereo is much nicer to look at than the typical base stereos found in vehicles under $20,000, and it even lets you customize a 16-character welcome message that appears every time you flip it on. We especially like the iPod-inspired mode-selection dial and the fact that the 300-watt output is significantly more than most other Scions provide. The optional touchscreen stereo is tempting, though, as it brings the added functionality (and cool typeface) of that 5.8-inch screen-plus an iPhone-powered Pandora feed and a little extra power-for under $500. But we'd like to see a subwoofer come standard with this premium system; if you want a sub, you'll have to buy one yourself and hook it up to the included RCA output.
The other notable high-tech extra is the navigation system, which boasts a seven-inch touchscreen. It works well enough, but given that it costs two grand, we'd rather use our smartphones to get around.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The front-wheel-drive tC is powered by a 2.5-liter inline-4 rated at 180 horsepower and 173 lb-ft of torque. The transmission choices are a six-speed manual and an extra-cost six-speed automatic transmission. Either way, the tC packs a pretty decent punch. This is essentially the same engine that powers the capable Toyota Camry sedan, and it has less mass to pull around in the tC's case. Chirped front tires off the line are a regular occurrence in this Scion, and passing power is downright respectable. For under $20,000, this is one of the quickest sport coupes you're going to find.
All things considered, EPA fuel economy estimates are pretty good for the tC, checking in at 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway.
The 2012 Scion tC comes with standard stability control, four-wheel ABS and eight airbags (front, front side, front knee and full-length side curtain).
In government crash testing, the tC scored a perfect five stars overall, including four stars for front impacts and five for side impacts. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the xB its top rating of Good in all categories and named it a Top Safety Pick.
The tC is a great introduction to the joys of driving. Thanks to standard stability control and an appetite for understeer, this Scion is highly unlikely to behave unpredictably. What it will do, though, is get enough g-force going in corners to whet a driver's appetite. At the same time, the tC has a civilized ride, and road noise isn't a problem by sport coupe standards. We're fans.
Other Cars to Consider
Honda Civic Si - More focused on performance than the tC, the Civic Si is a little quicker if you wind it out to the redline. The tC has closed the gap considerably, though.
Kia Forte SX Koup - The two-door Forte with the 2.4-liter engine packs style and spice in equal measure, but its boring interior gives the tC a clear advantage.
Volkswagen Golf - The two-door Golf has great driving dynamics and a character-rich inline-5 engine, along with an even handier hatchback design than the tC.
The tC comes so well equipped that we'd only be tempted to spring for the sexy 5.8-inch touchscreen. We'd stick with the manual transmission, too. That's a lot of bang for the buck.